Every single review I’ve read of Lords of the Fallen discusses it entirely with references to another game (check out Destructoid’s blunder), which I think is doing it a real disservice and it’s grated on me over the past week. Now, those of you who know me will know that I love that game, it’s a true modern classic and probably one of my favourites, but I also think Lords of the Fallen needs to be appreciated on its own without the constant comparison. I remember my interest for this game was piqued when I caught an early teaser trailer for it, but it wasn’t until much later at the EGX Expo in London that I got a chance to see it in action. Surprisingly, there was no pomp or fanfare, and not even a queue at an event where pretty much every other game had a forty-five minute wait; I played both this and Bloodborne on that day, and while I could guarantee I would enjoy the former, Lords of the Fallen really surprised me and I began to anticipate the game much, much more. The reviews started to roll out and, as I’d suspected, it was receiving on average somewhere between 7/10 and 8/10 depending on your tolerance for jankiness and games that aren’t “AAA” or perhaps have a few rough edges. After finishing the game in twenty-ish hours of dungeon crawling and savage combat I’m going to tell you what I think of it; all while avoiding mentioning that game. Although, I might mention Diablo 3. Just sayin’.
Lords of the Fallen is a dark-fantasy action roleplaying game, with a very strong emphasis on one-on-one strategic combat involving stamina bars, counters, parries, blocks and crushing defeating blows. The story concerns itself with a, previously defeated but now returned, demonic god and it’s legions of ‘Rhogar’ (demons), who through portals torn in time-and-space are sending their minions into the realm of men. As a beefcake lone warrior named ‘Harkyn’ you have to defeat the fiery Lords of the Fallen and save mankind, all while receiving the support of holy monks and warrior knights. It sounds a bit Diablo-ish, and it is, right down to the over stylised art; this is fantasy straight from the “huge spiky armour with skulls” school of Warhammer and with character-types ripped straight from Diablo 3, replete with terrible voice acting. That might be a little unfair actually, as some of the voice acting (like ‘Kaslo’ the sage-like figure who guides you) is pretty decent, but occasionally you’ll meet someone who is *awful*. The only female character in the game, for instance, made me want to tear my own ears off rather than listen to her badly deliver her turgid dialogue once more. It’s a shame really as by the end of the game I was heavily invested in the story and really enjoyed seeing it through to the dramatic conclusion.
The meat and bones of Lords of the Fallen though, is in the minute-to-minute gameplay, which largely involves edging along dark labyrinthine corridors and dispatching anything that doesn’t have a ‘talk’ prompt. Exploration is *very* rewarding in this game, and the level design is very clever, with lots of secret rooms and ways that the environments wrap back on themselves and interconnect with each other. A key you pick up midway through a complex set of catacombs might open a locked grate, allowing you access part of the area you had previously only glimpsed through iron bars, which allows you to pull a lever, which opens another door somewhere else, etc. etc. With no map of any kind, getting lost in the dark is part of the fun, and keeping a mental note of where I’d been and where locked doors were located was a real challenge. Speaking of challenges, the combat is no slouch either, with enemies frequently able to dispatch you in a few short hits if you let them corner you or if you get sloppy. The weapons themselves have real inertia, and you can’t go around mashing the attack button expecting to quickly swing giant axes or heavy hammers; they will take time to build momentum but hit like a truck when they connect. Similarly, switching to lighter armour lets you move much more swiftly, or quick weapons like daggers let you sneak in under enemy attacks for light but rapid damage.
There are other deep layers of combat mechanics layered on top of what is already a decent framework. For instance, timing your button presses to coincide with the very end of an attack animation creates a perfect chain, which in turn saves you stamina and lets you get more hits off onto the enemy. Also, with attacks split into the ‘light’ and ‘heavy’ variety, holding down the trigger for a strong attack can build it up for a longer but much more devastating blow at the expense of energy. Enemies can do the same however, so you’ve got to expect to die a few times whilst playing Lords of the Fallen, especially to one of the game's many and *awesome* boss fights, the titular Lords, each one proving to be a decent challenge and a test of your ability to block, roll and counter-attack at the right time. If you should fall in combat, then you drop all your experience points (used to level up your character) on that spot in a “ghost”, which you can run back to and collect before it degrades and disappears over time; leaking away all those lovely points you’d been saving up expecting not to suddenly meet your end. These mechanics are not one hundred percent original it must be said, but the way they’re implemented here puts a unique spin on matters, and it's interesting to see the development team trying new things, which are largely successful.
Graphically, the game frequently looks *fantastic*, obviously depending on how much you like the dark-fantasy art style. The engine itself is capable of some great lighting effects with volumetric shafts of light pouring into the dimly lit environments through cracks in walls, and there are some great particle effects in fights as weapons slam and spark against each other. This looks like a shiny “next-gen” game, which is nice for this genre. However, unfortunately being a small-budget game by a non-AAA developer there are some rough edges, and these come in the form of graphical glitches and a pervading feeling of jankiness to the whole thing. There are often weird physics and things not behaving quite how they should, sometimes textures flicker in an unsightly manner, and some bugs actually caused parts of the game to break on me; such as the time I got to a save point at the end of a particularly nasty gruelling section only to have it not respond to me… I couldn’t save and had to retrace my steps back to the previous area to ensure my progress wasn’t lost. I must say though that in the twenty hours it took for my playthrough I didn’t once encounter anything game-breaking, and neither did I experience any awful screen tearing or super-low framerates like some people have. I played it on PS4 and after a sizeable 5GB patch, which seems to have fixed most major problems, and I expect further patches will continue to polish it up.
If I was to be completely objective, my review score for Lords of the Fallen would fall squarely in the middle of most critics, at a 7.5/10 (*very* good but not quite great), but I have a real soft-spot for it. I’m going to add on another half a mark, partly because it’s my review thus reflective of my personal tastes, but party because I think the development team have done a fine job with this game and, regardless of any minor-defects or shoddy voice acting, the fact I’ve managed to talk at length about it without mentioning that game is testament to its qualities.
|To sum it all up, I *really* enjoyed this game. The environments were compelling to explore, the combat was weighty visceral and satisfying, and the musical score was gorgeous! Atmosphere and gameplay in Lords of the Fallen are both very good. The game could perhaps be a little longer, as twenty hours is on the short side for this genre, but there is decent replay value unlocking all the different endings, trophies for character classes, and completing side stories for the different NPCs.|